The PhoPQ gene regulatory system is induced during infection of the flea digestive tract and is required to produce adherent biofilm in the foregut, which greatly enhances bacterial transmission during a flea bite. To understand the context of PhoPQ induction and to determine PhoP-regulated targets in the flea, we undertook whole-genome comparative transcriptional profiling of WT and Δ strains isolated from infected fleas and from temperature-matched planktonic and flow-cell biofilm cultures. In the absence of PhoP regulation, the gene expression program indicated that the bacteria experienced diverse physiological stresses and were in a metabolically less active state. Multiple stress response genes, including several toxin–antitoxin loci and YhcN family genes responsible for increased acid tolerance, were upregulated in the mutant during flea infection. The data implied that PhoPQ was induced by low pH in the flea gut, and that PhoP modulated physiological adaptation to acid and other stresses encountered during infection of the flea. This adaptive response, together with PhoP-dependent modification of the bacterial outer surface that includes repression of pH 6 antigen fimbriae, supports stable biofilm development in the flea foregut.


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